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Jun 21, 2012
The Summer at Great Uncle Zenek's Farm in Poland
A little girl, Hanna was only 4 during that visit. But the memories of fresh gooseberries and cow's milk – and a gentle family member – are still vivid.
My dad approached me. "Hanna, Uncle Zenek is dead."
I reach into the nooks and crannies of my brain, trying to remember the name. "Uncle Zenek, the one with the farm. You remember, don't you?" my dad asks. I do. A flood of good memories rush into my mind.
I was about 4 years old when I first visited my great uncle. He lived in Wizna, a beautiful town in eastern Poland. Uncle lived on a lively farm. My brother and I indulged in fresh gooseberries as we watched our uncle feed the pink piglets. I, along with the friendly dog, teased the chickens, scaring the flighty hens and angering the proud rooster.
After dinner, we visited the neighbors, who owned a large herd of cows. My uncle milked a spotted cow, strained the frothy milk and poured it into a tall glass. I had never tasted milk that fresh and creamy before, and never since. Afterwards, we walked to a wide river. To our luck and great pleasure, a herd of cows was crossing the water, swimming with long strides and wet noses. They crossed onto land and trotted past us, stomping up dry dirt.
Later, we returned to the farm and watched the sun fall behind the fruit-laden trees.
Two years ago, my family and I visited Poland. It was a two-hour drive from Bialystok, the city both my parents were born and raised in, to Wizna. Unfortunately, it was too late to visit Uncle Zenek, as he had died the year before.
As we turned into the dirt driveway from the cobblestone street, the Grabowski family gathered at the gate to greet us. Four out of five of Uncle Zenek's sons were there, along with their wives and children. My grandma came with us, as she was married to Uncle Zenek's brother, my grandfather.
The farm was almost the same, although the piglets and the dog were gone. The absence of Uncle permeated the air, setting over the farm like a mist. The whole family visited his grave, which was in an old cemetery, high on a hill, overlooking a long river winding through pastures and fields. Setting lanterns and flowers down on his grave, I remembered his smiling, kind face and the gentle way he carried me on his back.
Back at the farm, I sat in the grass, once again tasting the sourness of the prickly gooseberries and smelling the nostalgic aroma of hay. There was a wedding taking place on the cobblestone street before us, adding to the laughter and noise of our family reunion. As I sat, surrounded by my closest family, it seemed like my uncle was still alive, and I was still 4 years old.